At least four lawsuits blaming the NFL for concussion-related dementia and brain disease will be consolidated in Philadelphia, and more could follow.
A US judicial panel approved requests on Tuesday by the NFL and plaintiffs lawyers to try similar cases before Senior US District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia.
The lawsuits represent more than 300 retired players or spouses, including two-time Super Bowl champion Jim McMahon.
“[This] allows Judge Brody to now bring everybody together and put this in an organized environment where all the legal issues and the medical issues and the scientific issues can all be decided in one place,” said lawyer Larry Coben of Philadelphia, who filed the first lawsuit in August on behalf of McMahon and six others.
The players accuse the NFL of negligence and intentional misconduct in its response to the headaches, dizziness and dementia that former players have reported. Some say they have no symptoms, but want to be monitored for future health problems.
Former Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Brent Boyd is described by lawyers as the only living player so far diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The degenerative brain disease, known as CTE, has typically been found in autopsies of people who have had multiple head injuries, including more than a dozen former NFL and NHL players.
The NFL has vowed to vigorously defend the claims. Spokesman Brian McCarthy declined to comment on Tuesday, but the league had supported the consolidation in Philadelphia for logistical purposes.
In the first lawsuit, the NFL has tried to block Coben from taking wide-ranging depositions early on as the league seeks to have the lawsuit thrown out. The NFL said that the lawsuits were barred under the players’ collective bargaining agreements.
Brody delayed ruling on the depositions while she waited to see where the cases would end up.
The US Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation assigned them to her on Tuesday after meeting last week in Miami.
Brody will handle all pretrial issues, including potentially key rulings on what evidence can be used at trial, and whether a class can be certified for medical monitoring or other purposes. The cases might then return to the district where they were filed for trial, Coben said.
As many as a dozen similar NFL concussion lawsuits have been filed in New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Florida and Philadelphia. They, too, could end up before the same judge.
Brody spent a decade on the bench in suburban Montgomery County before former US president George H.W. Bush nominated her for a federal judgeship. She took office in 1992 and took senior status in 2009.